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Countries Observe World AIDS Day on Saturday

This Saturday, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. The idea of holding a special day to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS dates back to a summit of health ministers in 1988. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region of the world most affected by AIDS, but all countries suffer from the pandemic. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.

AIDS awareness programs will be held in many cities around the world on World AIDS Day. In San Francisco, AIDS awareness programs are not limited to December 1st.

An estimated 25,000 people participated there in an annual AIDS walk in July. Mark Cloutier helped organize the event. He says, "It raises the issue. It raises awareness."

It also raises money to help those with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Programs like the AIDS walk, free testing and AIDS education are part of the reason the World Health Organization says the percentage of people living with HIV has leveled off.

Still, 33 million people around the world are estimated to be living with HIV. This year, another 2.5 million people contracted the virus while two million more died from AIDS.

Eight African countries account for almost one third of all new HIV infections and deaths.

And the World Health Organization reports that HIV has increased by more than 150 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the past six years. The data show the number of people living with HIV has more than doubled in Vietnam while Indonesia has the fastest growing epidemic.

The United Nations and the Chinese government estimate in a survey released Thursday that 700,000 people are infected with HIV in China. That is less than one percent of the population, but the report shows that between 30 and 50 million people are at risk because of high risk behavior.

More money is available for HIV/AIDS programs. President Bush has made the United States the world leader in its level of support for the fight against the virus. He said, "This investment has yielded the best possible return: saved lives."

Money has also poured in from private sources. And many governments have become more involved. The Thai government is cited for its efforts to de-stigmatize the disease through programs like Positive Partnership, where one person with HIV is given a small loan to start a business with a partner who does not have HIV. Both people benefit from the income and people who once shunned those with HIV become their customers.

James Wagoner is president of Advocates for Youth, an organization that focuses on youth and sexual health. He says every day, 6,000 young people worldwide contract HIV. "The chief problem is denial -- denial by adult policy makers and politicians that young people need sex education to prevent HIV. Denial that the research shows that if you educate young people about sex, about condoms, about prevention, it does not cause sexual activity, despite the protestations of numerous governments and policy makers."

The theme of the 2007 World AIDS Day focuses on leadership, political and social, to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The irony is that Washington, D.C., the capital of the country that provides the most global funding for AIDS, leads the nation in the number of people with AIDS.

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